China-Taiwan Weekly Update, April 12, 2024

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, April 12, 2024

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

Editors: Dan Blumenthal and Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute

Data Cutoff: April 10 at 5 pm ET

The China–Taiwan Weekly Update is a joint product of the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute. The update supports the ISW–AEI Coalition Defense of Taiwan project, which assesses Chinese campaigns against Taiwan, examines alternative strategies for the United States and its allies to deter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aggression, and—if necessary—defeat the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The update focuses on the Chinese Communist Party’s paths to controlling Taiwan and cross–Taiwan Strait developments.

Key Takeaways  

  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou on April 10 for the first time since 2015. The Xi-Ma meeting is consistent with a CCP effort to legitimize the KMT as its negotiating partner in Taiwan and to promote the Ma administration’s cross-strait policies as its preferred vision of cross-strait relations.
  • PRC civilian drones repeatedly approached islands of Taiwan’s Kinmen archipelago to film military facilities on the islands.
  • The PLA participated in the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) Working Group with their American counterparts in early April for the first time since December 2021.
  • The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) criticized the United States and Japan for expanding security relations to counter the PRC. The PRC perceives a deterioration in the threat environment from Japan’s deepening integration into the US-led regional security framework.
  • The PRC has normalized Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) harassment of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and supply ships near the Second Thomas Shoal since December 2023 to render the Philippines unable and unwilling to defend its claim to the Second Thomas Shoal.


Cross-Strait Relations

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou on April 10 for the first time since 2015. The Xi-Ma meeting is consistent with a CCP effort to legitimize the KMT as its negotiating partner in Taiwan and to promote the Ma administration’s cross-strait policies as its preferred vision of cross-strait relations. The two leaders met in Beijing near the end of Ma’s trip to the PRC, which spanned from April 1-11. Xi Jinping praised “Mr. Ma” for upholding the “1992 Consensus,” opposing Taiwanese independence, and promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and exchanges.[1] He claimed that “compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are all Chinese” and that “there is no grudge that cannot be resolved, no issue that cannot be discussed, and no force that can separate us.” Xi stressed that people on both sides must “protect the common home of the Chinese nation” by opposing Taiwanese “separatism” and external interference, work together for their long-term well-being, build a sense of community for the Chinese nation, and “realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” He also said that “we have realized the blueprint drawn by Dr. Sun Yat-sen” and “created many achievements that far exceed Dr. Sun Yat-sen's imagination.”[2] Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the Republic of China and the Kuomintang, Ma’s political party.

Ma said that Chinese people on both sides of the strait have “made steps together toward Chinese revitalization” over the past 30 years. He acknowledged recent tensions but said that a cross-strait war would have "unbearably heavy" consequences. He urged both sides to adhere to the 1992 consensus, oppose Taiwan's independence, look for common ground while setting aside disputes, seek out "win-win" solutions, and pursue peaceful development. Ma described the 1992 consensus as both sides agreeing to a "one China principle," with each side free to determine what "China" means.[3] The 1992 Consensus is an alleged verbal agreement between semi-official representatives of the PRC and the then KMT-ruled ROC following negotiations in 1992. It states that both sides agree there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The CCP interprets this “one China” to be the People’s Republic of China, while the KMT interprets it to be the Republic of China. The PRC has never publicly recognized the part of the “consensus” that acknowledges differing interpretations of “China” and did not include this part of Ma’s comments in its official readout of the meeting.

Radio Free Asia and Taiwanese media reported that Ma’s meeting with Xi, which neither Ma nor the CCP confirmed in advance, was originally scheduled for April 8 but was postponed to April 10.[4] The April 10 date coincides with a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as well as the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act in the United States.[5] Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus speculated that in moving the meeting to April 10, the CCP has made Ma into a “pawn” in its confrontational “game” with the United States.[6]

Ma did not meet Xi in an official capacity, as he is no longer an official in Taiwan’s government or his party, the Kuomintang (KMT). The stated purpose of Ma’s trip, which he called a “journey of peace and friendship,” was to lead a delegation of Taiwanese students to participate in exchanges with mainland youth, visit cultural and historical sites, and promote cross-strait stability.[7] Ma claimed throughout his trip that Taiwanese people have a strong belief in Chinese culture and national identity. He stressed that disputes must be resolved peacefully.[8] Ma visited the Chinese People's Anti-Japanese War Memorial Hall and Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing on April 9, important sites representing the KMT and CCP’s joint resistance against Imperial Japan during World War II. Ma also visited the Forbidden City with TAO Director Song, where he stressed that “de-Sinicization” will not succeed.[9]

Ma last met Xi in Singapore in 2015, when Ma was the president of Taiwan. This was the first meeting between the leaders of the PRC and Taiwan. In March 2023, Ma became the first former Taiwanese president to visit the PRC, in a visit that overlapped with sitting president Tsai Ing-wen’s trip to the United States. Ma did not meet Xi on that visit, however.

TAO spokesperson Chen Binhua said on March 14 that Taiwan would be able to alleviate tensions and “sleep soundly” if it could relive the “peaceful development period across the Taiwan Strait from 2008-2016.” Chen’s statement refers to the years of Ma’s presidency.[10] The PRC cut off official exchanges with Taiwan after Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP became president of Taiwan in 2016. CCP officials have repeatedly met with KMT officials during this time. The CCP insists that all cross-strait negotiations must be on the mutual basis of the “1992 consensus,” which Ma and the KMT recognize but Tsai and the DPP do not.

Taiwan’s political parties were split in their reaction to Ma’s meeting with Xi. The incumbent DPP administration’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said it “deeply regrets” that Ma “failed to publicly convey to China the Taiwanese people's insistence on safeguarding the sovereignty of the Republic of China and its democratic and free system.” The MAC also urged the PRC to engage in dialogue without political preconditions, noting a poll that found nearly 80% of Taiwanese people did not agree with the CCP’s insistence that accepting the “1992 Consensus” is a precondition to cross-strait dialogue.[11] Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said that Taiwanese people are concerned about the PRC’s escalating military intimidation, diplomatic pressure, and economic coercion against Taiwan, rather than any “discussions that do not represent mainstream Taiwanese public opinion.”[12] The KMT legislative caucus, however, praised the Ma-Xi meeting as a break in the deadlock and antagonism between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. It said the meeting showed the PRC and the international community that Taiwan does not only have “anti-China” voices. It said opposition to Taiwanese independence is the international consensus, including among Taiwan-friendly countries like the United States and Japan. It also praised Ma for bringing up to Xi that the “1992 Consensus” includes differing interpretations of “China.”[13]

The PRC Taiwan Affairs Office said on the 45th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) that the TRA and the United States’ “Six Assurances” to Taiwan are “completely wrong, illegal, and invalid.” TAO spokesperson Zhu Fenglian claimed the TRA and Six Assurances “seriously violate the one-China principle and the three communiques, violate the norms of international relations, and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs.”[14] The TRA and the Six Assurances to Taiwan form the basis of the modern US relationship with Taiwan. US President Jimmy Carter signed the TRA in 1979 to define the basis of US-Taiwan relations after the United States ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to form relations with the PRC. The law authorized the United States to maintain de facto relations with Taiwan through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). It also committed the United States to sell military equipment to Taiwan as necessary to allow Taiwan to maintain “sufficient self-defense capacity” and to allow the United States to “resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”[15] The Six Assurances are a series of clarifying statements that the United States released in 1982 to reassure Taiwan of its continued commitments after the United States switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC and issued three joint communiques with the PRC. The last joint communique said that the United States does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan and intends gradually to reduce them. The Six Assurances stated that the United States: 1) did not agree to set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan; 2) did not agree to consult with the PRC on arms sales to Taiwan; 3) will not mediate between Taipei and Beijing; 4) did not agree to revise the Taiwan Relations Act; 5) has not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan; and 6) will not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC.[16]

The PRC deputy representative to the United Nations accepted condolences for the casualties of the earthquake in Taiwan on behalf of Taiwan. A 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Taiwan on April 3, killing at least 9 people and injuring at least 1,000. This was the strongest earthquake to hit Taiwan since 1999.[17] PRC Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Geng Shuang told the UN Security Council that day that the PRC expressed its condolences to “Taiwan compatriots” for the earthquake that occurred in “Taiwan, China,” was willing to provide disaster assistance, and was “grateful to the international community for their expressions of sympathy and concern.”[18] Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the PRC’s “shameless behavior of using the Taiwan earthquake to carry out cognitive warfare in the international community.” It said Geng’s statement demonstrated that the PRC only has “political calculations” against Taiwan and no goodwill.[19] ROC Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also strongly condemned Bolivia for expressing solidarity with the PRC after the earthquake. Wu said Bolivia “shouldn’t be the evil, expansionist PRC’s pathetic puppet that jumps when Beijing says jump. Just like Taiwan, Bolivia is NOT part of communist China. No more, no less.”[20] The ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Bolivia was “bewitched by the Chinese government” and spread false statements that belittled Taiwan’s sovereignty.[21]

PRC civilian drones repeatedly approached islands of Taiwan’s Kinmen archipelago to film military facilities on the islands. PRC aerial photography drones repeatedly flew over Taiwan’s Erdan and Dadan islands, part of the Kinmen Island group located 10 kilometers (around 6 miles) from the PRC mainland, and filmed footage that was later posted on the internet. Drones filmed Taiwan Army activities on the island of Erdan on March 30.[22] A video that circulated on the Internet on April 1 claimed to show Taiwanese soldiers on Erdan and Dadan being “scared away” by the drone filming them.[23] The Army’s Kinmen Defense Command said it used flares and jamming guns to drive away PRC civilian drones approaching Erdan and Menghu Island on April 8.[24] ROC Army Chief of Staff Chen Chien-yi said on April 3 that such drones constituted “gray zone intrusions” and “cognitive operations” by the PRC. He dismissed the possibility that “mainland civilian bloggers trying to gain popularity on the Internet” were responsible for the drone incursions and instead said it was part of PRC “cognitive warfare” to undermine Taiwanese and international confidence in Taiwan’s military. Chen said such drone incursions had happened before and would happen again in the future. He said it was standard policy to shoot down drones over military facilities if the drones are in range.[25]

Civilian drone incursions into Kinmen’s airspace may be part of a broader effort to test and erode Taiwan’s military readiness and control over Taiwan’s territory. The PRC has normalized daily air and naval activities around Taiwan, including near-daily aerial crossings of the median line in the Taiwan Strait into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), since 2020.[26] It also normalized the use of high-altitude balloons that fly through Taiwan’s ADIZ near or directly over Taiwan, including near-daily balloon overflights in the weeks before and immediately after Taiwan’s election in January 2024. Taiwan does not scramble aircraft in response to all PRC ADIZ violations, but it does put military personnel on standby to respond quickly if needed. The high frequency of ADIZ violations drains Taiwan’s resources, exhausts military personnel, and degrades Taiwan’s threat awareness. The use of civilian assets such as photography drones and balloons in tandem with law enforcement and military incursions further wears down Taiwan’s response capability by making it more difficult for Taiwan to determine which air incursions constitute actual threats.



Czech media reported that a PRC military attaché tailed Taiwan vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim while she was in Prague in March. Hsiao visited the Czech Republic on March 17-19 at the invitation of Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil. Czech media Seznam Zpravy reported that Prague police stopped a PRC embassy staff member who ran a red light and almost caused a car accident while tailing Hsiao’s motorcade through Prague. The diplomat followed Hsiao to her hotel. The Czech foreign ministry summoned PRC Ambassador to Czechia Feng Biao for an explanation. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Libavsky said he was not satisfied with Feng’s explanation and did not consider the matter closed.[27] Members of the DPP condemned the incident.[28] The TAO reiterated on April 10 that the PRC has always opposed “any form of official exchanges between countries that have diplomatic relations with China and Taiwan.” It said that the DPP, Hsiao’s political party, was “colluding with external forces” but “cannot change the fact that Taiwan is part of China.”[29]


The PLA participated in the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) Working Group with their American counterparts in early April for the first time since December 2021.[30] President Joe Biden and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping previously agreed to restart the MMCA during their meeting on November 15, 2023.[31] The United States views military-to-military talks as a means of escalation management to prevent and control crises. The CCP views these talks, at least in part, as a bargaining chip that it can use to influence US behavior to the party’s benefit, however. The CCP could end military-to-military dialogue in response to a US action it opposes, for example. The party previously did this by cutting off high-level military dialogue in the aftermath of then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.[32]

Northeast Asia


The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) criticized the United States and Japan for expanding security relations to counter the PRC. The United States and Japan announced a series of measures to deepen their security and defense cooperation on April 10 during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s state visit to the United States. The White House announced that the two countries would modernize command and control structures and work towards improving interoperability between their militaries, in what President Biden called “the most significant upgrade to the US-Japan alliance” since its inception.[33] MFA spokesperson Mao Ning framed the Biden-Kishida meeting as representative of a “Cold War mentality” and labeled their cooperation as harmful to regional stability.[34] Mao centered the PRC’s disapproval around US-Japan interference in Taiwan after Biden commended Kishida for his support in maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. Kishida’s visit culminated in a trilateral summit with Philippines President Bongbong Marcos on April 11, during which the three heads of state advocated for “multilayered cooperation” in the interest of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.[35] Mao expressed the PRC’s disapproval of the trilateral summit, criticizing it for forming “exclusive small circles and camp confrontation.”[36]

PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning also criticized AUKUS for forming exclusive cliques and instigating an arms race in the Asia Pacific.[37] Japan is in talks to increase cooperation with AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership including the US, UK, and Australia. The AUKUS Defense Ministers issued a joint statement on April 8 signaling their intent to bolster collaboration with Japanese industry on developing military technologies.[38] Mao’s comments echo the PRC’s concerns that a US-led regional security network risks the formation of a united front to collectively deter Chinese aggression, carrying implications for the PRC’s irridentist claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The PRC is taking steps to discourage the formation of PRC-facing multilateral security cooperation. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command conducted joint naval and air exercises in the South China Sea on April 7-8, coinciding with joint exercises in between the US, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines in the latter’s exclusive economic zone.[39] The Southern Theater Command announced that military activities aimed at disrupting the South China Sea and creating “hot spots” were under control.[40] Mao called the exercises an act of hegemony and emphasized that the PRC would not be deterred from safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights.[41]

The national security advisors from the US, Japan, and the Philippines held a joint call in December, in which they reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen trilateral cooperation amidst escalating PRC provocations against the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea.[42] The three advisors previously agreed to enhance trilateral defense and security capabilities by leveraging mechanisms such as Japan’s technology and equipment-sharing policy and the QUAD’s Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) training and technology initiative.[43] Japan recently took steps to increase the transfer of military equipment to the Philippines, demonstrated by its sale of an advanced air surveillance radar system to the Philippines on December 20.[44] Japan is also in the process of finalizing a Reciprocal Access Agreement with the Philippines, which would enable the temporary stationing of troops to each other’s territory for exercises and patrols.[45] Japan finalized a Reciprocal Access Agreement with Australia in August 2023. [46]

Southeast Asia


The PRC has normalized Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) harassment of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and supply ships near the Second Thomas Shoal since December 2023 to render the Philippines unable and unwilling to defend its claim to the Second Thomas Shoal. The CCG harassed the PCG and associated supply ships six times at the Second Thomas Shoal between November 2021 and November 2023.[47] The CCG has increased the rate of harassment at the Second Thomas Shoal by doing so 11 times since December 1, 2023. The methods of harassment that the CCG employs have remained constant during the past three years. The CCG shines military-grade lasers to blind the PCG crews, sprays water cannons to immobilize supply ships and injure Filipino sailors, and rams PCG ships.[48] CCG water cannons damaged the Unaizah Mae 4 supply ship twice in March. The Philippines stated that such actions aim to deter it “from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zines, including Ayungin Shoal [Second Thomas Shoal] which forms part of our EEZ and continental shelf.”[49] The PRC MFA also stated on April 3 that the Philippines is the “root cause” of the South China Sea dispute by “relying on the support of external forces… and repeatedly provoking China.” [50]  The harassment of PCG ships combined with the PRC MFA statement indicates that the CCP aims to degrade the Philippines’ willingness and capability to defend its presence on the shoal.

The CCP used a similar strategy in 2012 that resulted in the Philippines withdrawing from the Scarborough Shoal, indicating the party’s intent with CCG activity around disputed shoals is to gain control of that territory. The CCP engaged in negotiations with the Philippines in 2012 to end a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, which Manilla administered at the time, while steadily increasing the number of Chinese Coast Guard ships near the shoal.[51] This resulted in the Philippines withdrawing its ships from the shoal in mid-June 2012 under a now-disputed agreement that the PRC would do the same.[52] The CCP subsequently kept its ships near the shoal and achieved its political objective of gaining de facto control of the Scarborough Shoal by July 2012.[53]



Fiji ordered PRC police to leave the country after choosing to maintain a Fiji-PRC policing agreement. Fiji decided on March 15 to uphold a Fiji-PRC police cooperation agreement signed in 2011 after putting the agreement on hold for a 12-month review.[54] Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka announced on March 27 that his government has removed PRC officers who were embedded with Fiji’s police force, however. Rabuka said Fiji had no need for the embedded PRC officers and expressed concern that the PRC’s growing presence in the Pacific could undermine democratic systems. Rabuka said senior Fiji police officers would continue training in the PRC.[55]


Tonga is open to security cooperation with the PRC during the Pacific Islands Forum in August. Tonga Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said on April 4 that he is open to the PRC’s offer of security support when Tonga hosts leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in August if Tonga police deem it necessary. He said discussions with the PRC have focused on the PRC providing vehicles and training for Tongan police ahead of the forum. The PRC is not a member of the Pacific Islands Forum. The PRC has pursued security and policing cooperation with many South Pacific countries, including a controversial security pact with the Solomon Islands in 2022. The United States has urged countries in the region not to strike security pacts with the PRC over fears that the PRC could use such agreements to expand its influence and military involvement in the region.[56]

Tongan officials privately criticized Australia and New Zealand’s negative response to the PRC security agreement with the Solomon Islands. A leaked document from Tonga's Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed officials criticizing Australia and New Zealand’s “condescending” and “frantic” response to a controversial 2022 security agreement between the PRC and the Solomon Islands. The document characterized Australia and New Zealand’s views were that “only they (or the Pacific [region collectively]) can decide which countries Pacific states should align themselves with.” The document acknowledged that many Pacific Island states are facing "threats to strategic independence as a result of growing indebtedness to Beijing.” It stressed that the Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation and has the right to make decisions about its security, however.[57] A leaked draft of the PRC-Solomon Islands agreement included language granting the PRC access and replenishment rights to Solomon Islands ports, as well as the right to use its armed forces to protect Chinese projects and personnel in the Solomon Islands.[58] Australia, New Zealand, and the United States warned at the time that the broadly worded agreement could open the door for PRC troops or even a PRC military base on the Solomon Islands.[59]


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on April 9 in the leadup to a Xi-Putin meeting in the unspecified future. Kremlin newswire TASS reported that Wang suggested that China and Russia engage in “dual counteraction” in response to alleged Western attempts at “dual containment” targeting Russia and China.[60] Xi reaffirmed his commitment to “intensify” bilateral collaboration with Russia and through international bodies to “promote the reform of the global governance system.”[61] Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to specify the date of Putin’s visit, but stated on April 9 that Lavrov’s visit “can be seen as preparation for upcoming contact at the highest level.”[62] Reuters reported on March 19 that Putin will travel to China in May to meet with Xi.[63]


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